We must reach beyond our borders to solve the problems at our borders.
I was reminded of this again recently, when I heard that a young Central American woman I know was intent on once again trying to make the dangerous journey to America's southern border in hopes of finding her way across and taking up residence in the United States.
Her decision is all the more remarkable because she has done it before, as a minor. That time she succeeded, only to find herself in federal custody on the East Coast for more than a year.
Despite this experience, she is determined to risk the attempt once more.
Why? Because the alternative is a future in a broken nation presided over by a reported narco-president, a nation of more than 9 million people in an area slightly larger than Tennessee.
According to the CIA, her nation is "one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has one of the world's highest murder rates. More than half of the population lives in poverty and per capita income is one of the lowest in the region. … The increased productivity needed to break the nation's persistent high poverty rate depends, in part, on further improvements in educational attainment. Although primary-school enrollment is near 100%, educational quality is poor. …"
The CIA paints a relatively rosy picture. On the basis of my own observations in-country, it fails to accurately gauge the poverty and lack of opportunity there. According to multiple sources, criminal gangs are responsible for thousands of deaths each year and they have levied "war taxes" on small businesses throughout the land for years. The largest gangs are American exports. Half of the population is under 24, with few hopes for the future.
These are not simply statistics for this young woman. Her brother was killed by gang members when she was very young. Her brother-in-law was killed by local police, for reasons never explained to the family. By all accounts, he was a law-abiding and industrious metal worker doing his best to support his family. Her father, a gentle man who has done his best to care for her and her many siblings since the death of her mother, is unemployed and has little hope of returning to work in this stillborn economy, particularly in the time of COVID-19.
These are the conditions that fuel her desire to flee along with thousands of others from her country.
We will not stop this tide with walls or rhetoric. We must address it at its source, by helping the nations of Central America establish true democracies, educate their children, and provide jobs for their people.
Nothing else will end the flow.
James M. Hamilton is a retired attorney in St. Paul.